For some dogs, showing affection might mean gingerly licking your hand once or twice. For others, it means showering every inch of you in slobbery, wet kisses.
Some dog owners love when their pooch is so enthusiastic with their love. Others prefer drier, less intimate forms of affection.
Regardless of how you feel about it, seeing some pup doggedly (sorry) licking whatever is in sight has likely brought this thought to the top of your mind: Why do dogs seem to lick everything they can get their paws on?
Why Do Dogs Lick People?
Commonly accepted wisdom tells us that dogs lick us as their way of telling us that they love us. Some even refer to licks as kisses!
But, unfortunately, the jury’s still out on why exactly dogs lick us.
One theory raised by Alexandra Horowitz, head of the Horowitz Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College, says that dogs may lick people in order to get humans to regurgitate food for them. She says: “Researchers of wild canids — wolves, coyotes, foxes, and other wild dogs — report that puppies lick the face and muzzle of their mother when she returns to her den from a hunt – in order to get her to regurgitate for them.” Being that we’re our pup’s provider of food and comfort, it can be understood how we would become the new target of this behavior…ugh!
Certified applied animal behaviorist Dr. Mary Burch has another idea. She points out that humans’ slightly salty skin may be enticing to dogs who enjoy the taste of salt. This also helps explain why dogs seem particularly attracted to our feet, even when we think they smell…well ..like feet! After wearing socks in shoes all day, our feet get sweaty and, as a result, produce the same salty taste that Fido can’t get enough of!
But licking can also simply be a sign of affection, too! Affectionate licking is something that starts when dogs are puppies. In their first few weeks of life, mother dogs will lick their young to stimulate breathing, urination, and defecation. This leads to dogs to associate licking with caregiving and love. Horowitz points out that licking is also a standard social greeting for many dogs, with even some wild species, licking pack members to welcome them home.
However, the frequency with which a dog licks people is entirely dependent on how licking is treated when they’re puppies. If they’re often allowed to lick as much they want when they’re babies (and, honestly, how can you resist them?), then this habit will stick with them as they age.
Why Do Dogs Lick Their Paws?
While dogs will naturally spend a little time here and there self-grooming by licking their paws, sometimes this behavior begins to increase to the point of being excessive. And just as with many other dog behaviors, there are a number of reasons why this may happen.
If you notice your dog has begun licking his paws much more than normal, be sure to examine his paws to check for any sign of injury, irritation, infection, or growth that may be causing discomfort. It’s a good idea to contact your veterinarian if this behavior becomes obsessive, regardless of whether or not you find anything, because it may be an indicator of a bigger problem.
A medical diagnosis that attempts to explain what’s causing excessive paw licking will begin with a thorough examination of your dog’s paws. The vet will closely examine the paws to look for injuries like a cut, torn nail, growth, or something stuck between the pads. The vet will also check for signs of irritation or blistering.
If the pads and feet look okay, it’s possible that your dog is licking his paws so much because of a skin condition known as dermatitis. Dermatitis tends to arise as an allergic reaction to things in our environment such as grass, mold spores, dust mites, and plant pollen. Unfortunately, dermatitis is not typically something that you can control sufficiently on your own. Your vet needs to conduct a thorough exam in order to both determine which antigens, if any, caused the reaction and to craft your dog’s treatment plan.
If you and your vet determine there is no medically identifiable reason why your dog is licking his paws so much, then it’s possible your dog is suffering from a behavioral problem such as anxiety or boredom.
Cheri Wulff Lucas, a dog behavior specialist, notes that yeast and other skin infections also cause dogs to lick their paws more often. If the yeast infection is bad enough, your dog may lick their paws until they draw blood. If you notice your dog licking their paws very frequently combined with sores, redness, or a slimy discharge, get your dog checked out by a vet. Diet can play a big role in controlling yeast infections in dogs. Make sure your dog is on a high protein, quality dog food. Less expensive dog foods sometimes contain “fillers” such as soy or corn that can cause allergies that lead to skin problems. Some dog foods are too high in sugar that can lead to a yeast build-up in a dog’s system and that brings along with it, yes, skin allergies!
However, if the infection seems like it hasn’t progressed to those latter stages, apply and massage Banixx Pet care spray 2-3 times per day onto your dog’s infected area for fast-acting pain-free relief. And, don’t worry, Banixx works on-contact and contains no bothersome stinging, stickiness or odors. Your pup can even keep licking their paws without having to worry about ingesting harmful chemicals (though they will need a replacement application).
Why Do Dogs Lick the Carpet and the Couch?
Excessive licking inanimate objects is a problematic behavior that’s often born out of compulsion, anxiety, or stress. Some possible explanations for why your dog has developed these feelings include under-stimulation or under-socialization. If your dog is often cooped up in the house by themselves all day, it’s possible for them to develop feelings of uneasiness that quickly morph into anxiety and stress.
Unfortunately, your pooch’s coping mechanism of licking something to feel better has a habit of reinforcing the feelings that caused him to lick in the first place. If you believe that your dog is licking the carpet and couch out of stress or anxiety, it might be time to seek professional medical help.
In the meantime, Dr. Sarah Wooten of Sheep Draw Veterinary Hospital advises that you try to help your dog relieve some of their boredom or stress by taking them on more walks and playing with them more often. We also recommend that you read up on some common anxiety triggers and how to help your pup calm down.
Nausea may also trigger bouts of excessive licking of inanimate objects, surfaces, and furniture. Additionally, canine cognitive dysfunction and other neurological diseases can cause excessive licking. One study has also linked excessive licking with the presence of certain gastrointestinal disorders.
Another explanation is that dogs may realize that licking the carpet and couches gets them attention. If your dog gets an immediate response every time he licks something, he’s likely to find the behavior rewarding (even if you scold him). A good way to test this is to record your dog’s behavior when they’re alone. If the licking reduces significantly, it’s likely that their licking of the couch or carpet has less to do with how good it tastes and more to do with them wanting your reaction.
Lastly, consider the fact that some dogs just love licking stuff. For some pooches, licking stuff has little to do with anything other than just enjoying the activity.
Whatever the reason your dog has for licking everything in sight, we know that it’s almost impossible to stay mad at him and that you just want what’s best for him.
That’s why we hope that you’ll continue to visit our dog page to learn more on how to keep your dog happy and healthy.